What Does Fulfillment Look Life?

Ask Jeff: Philosopher Jeff Stilwell explains what fulfillment looks like.

In this week’s episode of Ask Jeff MalcolmP writes in: You’re always talking about fulfillment. What does that look like?

Sometimes it is best to begin answering this kind of question by explaining what something is not.

Fulfillment is not an energy drink, easily consumed with a pop of the top. Nor is it a silver bullet – or, in today’s psychological parlance, a magic pill. It is not a product that you can order and have shipped to you by Amazon. It is not a tool that you can borrow from a friend for a weekend and return later. It is not even an enlightenment that you can learn at the foot of a master or earn by going tens of thousands of dollars into debt while getting a few letters after your name.

Nor is it a one-size-fits-all answer to the universal problem of emptiness.

Fulfillment is unique to each of us. Precisely, fulfillment is eminently satisfying to you and probably not many others.

Take my definition of fulfillment.

I want to spend the next decades explaining to others my ideas that We Create God (and not the other way around) and, therefore, We Create Heaven (in this lifetime or not at all), thus, we had best get the most out of this one life that we possibly can.

If achieving that goal extends to being able to someday found a rescue ranch for farm animals – particularly horses headed for the glue factory, pigs and cows for the slaughterhouse – and hanging out from time to time in the art scenes of Montmartre and Shanghai, all the better.

But that’s me.

What is your idea of fulfillment?

Continuing with the exploration of what fulfillment does not look like – it is not what your family members, particularly your parents or siblings want for you. They do not – as much as they might think they do – get to choose for you. Indeed, they have their own lives to lead, their own fulfillment to discover, and they had best get at it.

(Soft note: We are all human. The fear of losing someone we dearly love to some unforeseen change is quite real, wholly unsettling, if not terrifying, and best handled with a great deal of gentle understanding and patience.)

Nor is fulfillment some kind of dastardly snake oil that fools you, leading you down the road to utter devastation – for the simple reason that your search for fulfillment provides you with almost daily feedback about whether your search is the right path for you.

For example, I once ran for Congress. Why? Well, that’s a long story, mostly having to do with my desire to be useful and my late mother’s adamant ambition for me. What my wife and I all too quickly noticed, however, after embarking on that particular adventure was that every step further down the road made us both progressively less comfortable and even less happy. It was not a good fit. I clearly lack the ruthless bone that political leaders find so handy. Nor do I succeed pretending that I’m hearing a stale joke for the very first time. These qualities, I quickly learned, are crucial in that line of work.

No. Fulfillment is not a trip to Crazyville. It is your life. Your needs. Your desires. It will make sense to you most steps of the way, or you will quickly abandon your aim and set about selecting another to pursue. That’s the way it works. Try it.

Nor, finally, is fulfillment easily achieved. It took me half a lifetime just to figure out what mine looks like. I have yet to climb that peak.

How long will it take you to figure out yours?

However long, it’s time to take that first step.

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